A former teacher at Montgomery County High School has received a $500,000 settlement in a lawsuit alleging the board of education and ousted superintendent Josh Powell retaliated against her, court documents said.
The settlement, which was finalized in March, follows a total of at least $700,000 in other settlements reached since 2016 by four people who worked for Powell in Montgomery County Schools and had either filed lawsuits or were pursuing legal action against Powell and the board.
The Montgomery County school board fired Powell and in 2016 the Education Professional Standards Board revoked Powell’s superintendent certification until 2020.
“While justice delayed is justice denied, this settlement ultimately shows that wrongdoers must be pursued and put to the prospect of a jury trial. In this instance, it took over 2½ years of litigation and until the eve of a jury trial for the defendants finally to do the right thing,” said Kelly Wallace’s attorney Michael J. Cox.
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The Education Professional Standards Board concluded in a 2016 recommended order that Powell “drove many good educators out of the district and crushed the careers of others” in his search for celebrity as a superintendent who turned around school districts.
Attorneys for Powell and the school board did not reply to requests for comment. Montgomery district officials and Powell neither admitted nor denied liability in the settlements.
In the case that resulted in the $500,000 legal settlement, Wallace was employed by the Montgomery County Board of Education from 2010 through the end of the 2013-14 school year as a health and PE teacher and department chair at Montgomery County High School. She was also a volleyball coach.
Wallace says in court documents she became the victim of an ongoing campaign of retaliation spearheaded by the Board of Education through Powell. The retaliation culminated in non-renewal of her employment after the 2013-14 school year. The board and Powell retaliated against Wallace based upon Powell’s belief that Wallace along with her husband were responsible for filing a Title IX complaint in 2013 against the school district concerning disparate use of a weight room between boys and girls, according to the court documents.
“Shortly after beginning my tenure with Montgomery County Schools, it became apparent to me that male and female academic and athletic programs were not equitable,” Wallace told the Herald-Leader. “Because I was an advocate for equality, I was targeted by Superintendent Josh Powell and other Montgomery County School District employees when an anonymous Title IX complaint was filed against the district. When my principal, Jim Dusso, would not provide negative teaching evaluations to support my dismissal as directed by Powell, a scenario was created to rationalize my departure. This monetary settlement does not cover all the extensive financial and emotional damages I have suffered, but it does allow me to move on.”
Wallace sought damages, attorney fees, costs and expenses.
In her lawsuit, Wallace said that on Dec. 2, 2013, Powell met with Dusso, the high school’s principal, and discussed a Title IX discrimination complaint that had been filed in 2013 with the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education against the school district.
During the meeting, Powell said he thought that Wallace and her husband were involved with filing the Title IX complaint, that he disliked her husband, and that he wanted to “get rid of her,” Wallace alleged in her lawsuit.
Wallace alleged in the suit that Powell directed Dusso to make sure that Wallace’s evaluations going forward should reflect issues sufficient to justify that her employment was not to be renewed, even though her past evaluations were positive and there was no basis not to renew her based upon her performance.
Dusso, according to a pending lawsuit that he has filed against the district and Powell, responded to Powell: “I will not alter the document as you directed. I will however change my recommendation regarding Kelly from nonrenewal to renewal.
“ ... I will no longer participate in your illegal and unethical efforts to retaliate against Kelly and (her husband) for filing the Title IX complaint. I have reported your actions to the Department of Education, the Education Professional Standards Board and the Office of Education Accountability.”
The professional standards board said in its order that Dusso was a victim of Powell’s retaliation.
Earlier this year, Michelle Goins-Henry, who was a school administrator under Powell, received a $250,000 settlement from the school district. The Education Professional Standards Board found that Powell badgered and demeaned her. In 2016, Amanda Reffitt received a $150,000 settlement in a lawsuit filed against Powell and the board. Her attorney, Ed Dove, said her lawsuit involved allegations that Powell retaliated against her and interfered with her getting a job. In 2016, former employee Jennifer Hall received a $140,000 settlement. She had filed a lawsuit saying she was illegally fired at Powell’s direction.
Former Athletic Director Gene Heffington received a $150,000 settlement. He did not file a lawsuit but was pursing legal action, his attorney Jeff Walther confirmed. The Education Professional Standards Board found that Powell “was dishonest when he demoted and later extorted Gene Heffington into retiring early in exchange for Powell’s removing a demotion letter from Heffington’s personnel file.”
“Due to ongoing litigation, I cannot make any comments about the settlements,” the current Montgomery County Superintendent Matthew Thompson said.
An attorney representing Powell did not return telephone calls seeking comment.